Laird Jones, a Juneau resident who attended, shares the story of his great aunt died while attending the Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania and is still buried in one of its graveyard’s 14 unmarked grave. His family is on a mission to bring her home to Alaska and to share her story. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Boarding school sharing event highlights family’s fight to bring their loved one home

“She is so far from here, we want to bring her home to be with family”

Mary Kininnook was laid to rest at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s cemetery in Pennsylvania in 1908, more than 3,000 miles away from her home in Saxman, Alaska, where she was taken from. She was 14 years old when she died, according to a resurfaced letter that identified her death and burial.

Kininnook, who was Tlingit, still remains buried there to this day, under one of the 14 nameless gravestones that mark the final resting places of children who lost their lives along with their cultures, families and identities at the infamous boarding school, according to Laird Jones, Kininnook’s great-nephew.

Jones, a Juneau resident, shared her story at a sharing event held at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall Friday afternoon. The event was hosted in collaboration with the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center community, a data-sharing project that seeks to help families connect with and learn about their relatives who were removed from their homes and culture. The event shared the names of Alaska children taken away from their families and sent to the boarding school from which many never returned.

“It brought a lot of tears to the family,” Jones said. “She is so far from here, we want to bring her home to be with family.”

From 1879-1918 the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania housed nearly 7,900 children from 140 native tribes across the United States. Its mission — along with many of the boarding schools that scattered the U.S. including the 24 off-reservation schools the Carlisle model spawned — was to take Indigenous children from their culture and divorce them of their Indigenous identity in exchange for U.S. values and culture. A common phrase said by the school’s founder Richard Henry Pratt was “Kill the Indian, save the man. Through research done by the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, people across the country have been able to identify their lost relatives and, and have been able to find information about some of the 127 students who identified as Alaskan at the school.

For many, like Jones and his family, the painful past still reverberates into life today, but bringing his great-aunt home to Alaska symbolizes one step closer to maintaining his family and culture’s history.

“There is a lot of loss, but there is also absolute survival to maintain our culture and history,” he said.

Jones said he shared her story to continue her voice and the history behind his family heritage. He said by sharing the stories of those lost, it’s a chance to heal and maintain his family’s culture for future generations.

“It’s overwhelming on every front,” said Sarah Dybdahl, the cultural heritage and education manager for Tlingit and Haida, who was the emcee of the event. “The ability to know where they are, and to bring them home is so important for our generation to move forward and heal.”

Dybdahl shared the story of her great-great-grandparents who also attended boarding school.

“They were able to return home, but that’s not a common story or thread,” she said.

She hopes the event gave people a sense of healing and comfort knowing those lost to the boarding school are still being spoken of more than 100 years later.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

Juneau State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, who stepped down last year due to term limits, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisian majority a key to meaningful action

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Hunter credits community members for Thanksgiving rescue

KENAI — On Thanksgiving, Alaska Wildlife Troopers released a dispatch about a… Continue reading

The snowy steps of the Alaska State Capitol are scheduled to see a Nativity scene during an hour-long gathering starting at 4 p.m. Friday which, in the words of a local organizer, is “for families to start their Gallery Walk in a prayerful manner.” But two Outside groups dedicated to placing Nativity scenes at as many state capitol buildings as possible are proclaiming it a victory against the so-called “war on Christmas.” The head of Alaska’s Legislative Affairs Agency, which has administrative oversight of the building, said the gathering is legal since a wide variety of events occur all the time, often with religious overtones, but the placement of a fixed or unattended display is illegal. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Scene and heard: Religious freedom groups say Nativity event makes statement

State officials say happening planned for Capitol relatively common and legal.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, Dec. 1

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Steve Lewis, foreground, and Stephen Sorensen from the Alaska State Review Board scan ballots from precincts where they were hand counted at the Division of Elections office Nov. 15. Board officials spent the period between the Nov. 8 election and its certification Wednesday performing about 20 different to verify the results. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Election certified, but challenges pending

Outcome of at least two state House races unknown, which may determine chamber’s leadership

Errol Culbreth and Scotlyn Beck (Polichinelles) rehearse ahead of Juneau Dance Theatre’s production of “The Nutcracker.” The immensely popular ballet is coming to the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Friday through Sunday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Juneau Dance Theatre is ready to get cracking

“The Nutcracker” is set to run Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

In this photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB investigator Clint Crookshanks, left, and member Jennifer Homendy stand near the site of some of the wreckage of the DHC-2 Beaver, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, that was involved in a midair collision near Ketchikan. The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration should tighten rules about minimum visibility during flights and require more weather training for pilots who fly around Ketchikan.  (Peter Knudson/NTSB via AP)
Safety board recommends new measures for Alaska air tours

The board wants regulations for Ketchikan similar to requirements in Hawaii and the Grand Canyon.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Wednesday, Nov.30

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read